The Circle of Gratitude

Services

Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

11/21/2022

1

The Circle of Gratitude

Eph. 1:15-19; Ps. 100; 1 Thess. 5:16-18

A Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, and a rabbi want to see who’s best at doing their job. So, they each go into the woods, find a bear, and attempt to convert it. Later they get together. The priest begins: “I found the bear by the stream, read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his first communion.” The Methodist minister says, “I found a bear by the stream, preached God’s holy Word, quoted from John Wesley’s sermon on grace, and sang a stanza of Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The bear’s heart was so strangely warmed that he let me baptize him. Next week he's joining the church and we will have a potluck following the service.” They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a hospital bed in a body cast. “Looking back,” the rabbi says, “maybe I shouldn't have started off with circumcision.” What does this have to do with this Sunday’s sermon? Well, not a lot perhaps, except that we’re going to be talking about gratitude and one of the things I am most grateful for is the gift of laughter. 

Scripture makes it clear that gratitude is important to God. The root word, in the Greek, for gratitude appears 157 times in the Bible; the root for thankfulness or thanksgiving, 72 times. The words “gratitude” and “thankfulness” are similar in definition, but not necessarily identical. Psychologists categorize three types of gratitude. The first is temporary emotion, the feeling we get after receiving a gift from someone or a word of praise. It is limited to that person and that act of kindness. The second is a mood, which can fluctuate daily, hourly, or by the moment due to circumstances. It’s a feel-good feeling based on lack of conflict or stress in our present circumstances. I hit all the green lights, found a good parking space, found that item I needed in the store and it was on sale. Life is good. Until it isn’t. Then, finally, there is gratitude as a trait, defined by one's overall tendency to have a grateful disposition. The first two might more properly be defined as thankfulness rather than gratitude. Where thankfulness is a mood or emotion, gratitude is an attitude of appreciation under any circumstance. Gratitude involves being thankful, but it is more than that. Gratitude means expressing thankfulness and being appreciative of life daily even when nothing exciting happens or when bad things happen. The Bible generally puts it this way: give thanks, but be grateful. 

Ps. 100 is one of the greatest chapters on giving thanks to God. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” Make a joyful noise. Serve with gladness. Sing. Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving. Praise God. Give thanks to God and bless God’s name. This is thanksgiving at its most fundamental. We give thanks to God because God made us and we belong to God. Ps. 100 has formed the foundation for many of our hymns. Hymn #75: All People that on Earth Do Dwell, probably the oldest continuously sung congregational song in North America dating back into the mid-1500s. The words are old English and perhaps not familiar, but the tune would be very familiar. The tune forms the basis for another hymn based on Ps. 100 which we will be singing shortly: #95 in the hymnal, Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow, also known as the Doxology, but also commonly called the Old 100th. Other hymns include Wesley’s, “Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Then there’s the two we sang earlier: “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” (both of which were inspired by Ps. 100:4).  

The first lesson from Ps. 100 about giving thanks is that it comes with a strong suggestion as to how we are to approach God, and it’s the opposite of what we were taught growing up. We were taught to first say please, and then when you get what you asked for, say thank you. But God says, I want you to start with thank you, and then say please. So, before you start praying, God I need a breakthrough, God I need a miracle, God I need guidance, God I need … Before you come to God with any of that, first give thanks. God, thank you for the life you’ve given me, thank you for the miracles you’ve already done in my life, thank you for your love, thank you for sending Jesus Christ into the world, thank you for … focusing on thanks first forces us to focus on our relationship with God and our faith in that relationship. 

Secondly, Psalm 100 doesn’t say that we are simply to give thanks to God because God created us and is faithful, even though that is reason enough for thanks. Instead, the author seeks to draw us deeper into the fundamentals of our faith, by steering us to something other than mood or emotion. The key word to the entire psalm is the first word in v. 3: “Know.” The word, in Hebrew and in Greek, is written in the imperative; in other words, it’s a command. The psalm should read like this: “Know that the Lord is God. Know that it is God who made us. Know that we are his; that we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Know that the Lord is good. Know that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Know that God is faithful to all generations.” Know these things, and more, about God. How can we “know?” We study, we learn, we pray, we worship, we gain in experience – and our knowledge increases. Gratitude to God should be a fundamental part of our faith, a mantra for how we think and live. But gratitude should never be stagnant. At some point the mindset of gratitude has to move from the head to the heart, and the Apostle Paul addresses this transition in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

These verses move us quickly past the fundamental to faithfulness. It’s one thing to be generally thankful to God: to open our prayers with a word of thanks or to come to church and sing the Doxology. Now we’re faced with another set of imperatives or commands. These verses, written in Greek, are in the imperative just like Ps. 100, but where the imperative in Ps. 100 is “know,” the imperative in these short verses is “do.” What Paul is actually saying is: Do always rejoice. Do constantly pray. Do give thanks in all circumstances.” Another way might be to end every phrase with an exclamation point. If we’re honest with ourselves, this is harder. 

Life is hard. Life can be painful. Broken relationships and hurt feelings. Loneliness and isolation. Disappointments. The stress of paying bills and meeting everyday obligations. Health issues. Death. How do we rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances? Is Paul being unreasonable? 

On the surface, we would prefer to qualify Paul’s words by removing the “all” and replacing it with the word “some.” Kind of like that great hymn, I Surrender Some. Right? But let’s be real. How can I give thanks when myself or someone I love gets a cancer diagnosis? Or I lose a loved one due to dementia? Or a child or grandchild dies? How can I give thanks when I lose my job? How can I give thanks when my life seems to be spiraling out of control due to any number of circumstances … and I’m sure you all have your own thoughts? I think there’s a distinction to be made … and then a couple of points. First, note that Paul says we are to give thanks “in” all circumstances, not “for” all circumstances. That may seem a slight distinction but it’s an important one. Thanks for all circumstances implies we just accept our lot whatever it is and give thanks for it. Giving thanks in all circumstances means that we give thanks for all we know – have learned and experienced – God to be and then we pray and pray and pray (constantly pray, Paul says) for strength, for courage, for healing, and even for a change in our circumstances. 

Why is this moving from the fundamental to the faithful? Ps. 100 just says do it – gives thanks. 1 Thessalonians says we give thanks because it is the “will of God in Christ Jesus for [us].” It is a matter of our faith in Christ, a faith we are called to live, as integral to our lives as breathing. We can’t exist with breathing; we can’t live our faith without giving thanks to God. Faithful thanksgiving is not about the good or the bad – those things exist on the surface of faith. It’s in the depths of faith where we find the ability to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances because when we get to the depths we get to the promise, the fullness, of faith. 

You may have noticed on the front of your bulletin the slide that outlines the circle of faith: from fundamental to faithful to fullness. We now come to that last stage and to our sermon text for today from Ephesians 1:15-19 as Scott read for us. In v. 17, we can hear the tie-in back to Ps. 100: “So that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” Our desire to know more about God will lead to a spirit of wisdom and insight about God. But more than that, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may perceive what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Whatever our present circumstances, we can have hope. Hope is a present trust in a future promise. Hope reminds us that we are promised a glorious inheritance. Hope assures us that what is yet to come will be greater than anything we can possibly experience now. And our hope is not based on us – on our strength or wisdom – it is based in the certainty of God’s great power. 

In the end, gratitude, at least in one sense, has very little, if anything, to do with God. God doesn’t need our gratitude, but God knows we have a need to be grateful. If we are to fully live our faith, our focus needs to be on something, and someone, greater than ourselves. Gratitude is a fundamental ingredient of faith leading to a deep and meaningful life. Gratitude encompasses thankfulness and then moves beyond it. Gratitude means receiving the essence of God’s love and grace, and having been filled with thankfulness, letting God’s love and grace come out from you to bless others as you have been blessed. Where are you, where would you put your faith, on the circle of gratitude? The key is to never remain stagnant but to keep moving deeper until you attain that glorious inheritance that is promised to the saints, to all those who believe in God through Christ Jesus. Amen.  

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The Circle of Gratitude

Eph. 1:15-19; Ps. 100; 1 Thess. 5:16-18

A Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, and a rabbi want to see who’s best at doing their job. So, they each go into the woods, find a bear, and attempt to convert it. Later they get together. The priest begins: “I found the bear by the stream, read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his first communion.” The Methodist minister says, “I found a bear by the stream, preached God’s holy Word, quoted from John Wesley’s sermon on grace, and sang a stanza of Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The bear’s heart was so strangely warmed that he let me baptize him. Next week he's joining the church and we will have a potluck following the service.” They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a hospital bed in a body cast. “Looking back,” the rabbi says, “maybe I shouldn't have started off with circumcision.” What does this have to do with this Sunday’s sermon? Well, not a lot perhaps, except that we’re going to be talking about gratitude and one of the things I am most grateful for is the gift of laughter. 

Scripture makes it clear that gratitude is important to God. The root word, in the Greek, for gratitude appears 157 times in the Bible; the root for thankfulness or thanksgiving, 72 times. The words “gratitude” and “thankfulness” are similar in definition, but not necessarily identical. Psychologists categorize three types of gratitude. The first is temporary emotion, the feeling we get after receiving a gift from someone or a word of praise. It is limited to that person and that act of kindness. The second is a mood, which can fluctuate daily, hourly, or by the moment due to circumstances. It’s a feel-good feeling based on lack of conflict or stress in our present circumstances. I hit all the green lights, found a good parking space, found that item I needed in the store and it was on sale. Life is good. Until it isn’t. Then, finally, there is gratitude as a trait, defined by one's overall tendency to have a grateful disposition. The first two might more properly be defined as thankfulness rather than gratitude. Where thankfulness is a mood or emotion, gratitude is an attitude of appreciation under any circumstance. Gratitude involves being thankful, but it is more than that. Gratitude means expressing thankfulness and being appreciative of life daily even when nothing exciting happens or when bad things happen. The Bible generally puts it this way: give thanks, but be grateful. 

Ps. 100 is one of the greatest chapters on giving thanks to God. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” Make a joyful noise. Serve with gladness. Sing. Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving. Praise God. Give thanks to God and bless God’s name. This is thanksgiving at its most fundamental. We give thanks to God because God made us and we belong to God. Ps. 100 has formed the foundation for many of our hymns. Hymn #75: All People that on Earth Do Dwell, probably the oldest continuously sung congregational song in North America dating back into the mid-1500s. The words are old English and perhaps not familiar, but the tune would be very familiar. The tune forms the basis for another hymn based on Ps. 100 which we will be singing shortly: #95 in the hymnal, Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow, also known as the Doxology, but also commonly called the Old 100th. Other hymns include Wesley’s, “Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Then there’s the two we sang earlier: “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” (both of which were inspired by Ps. 100:4).  

The first lesson from Ps. 100 about giving thanks is that it comes with a strong suggestion as to how we are to approach God, and it’s the opposite of what we were taught growing up. We were taught to first say please, and then when you get what you asked for, say thank you. But God says, I want you to start with thank you, and then say please. So, before you start praying, God I need a breakthrough, God I need a miracle, God I need guidance, God I need … Before you come to God with any of that, first give thanks. God, thank you for the life you’ve given me, thank you for the miracles you’ve already done in my life, thank you for your love, thank you for sending Jesus Christ into the world, thank you for … focusing on thanks first forces us to focus on our relationship with God and our faith in that relationship. 

Secondly, Psalm 100 doesn’t say that we are simply to give thanks to God because God created us and is faithful, even though that is reason enough for thanks. Instead, the author seeks to draw us deeper into the fundamentals of our faith, by steering us to something other than mood or emotion. The key word to the entire psalm is the first word in v. 3: “Know.” The word, in Hebrew and in Greek, is written in the imperative; in other words, it’s a command. The psalm should read like this: “Know that the Lord is God. Know that it is God who made us. Know that we are his; that we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Know that the Lord is good. Know that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Know that God is faithful to all generations.” Know these things, and more, about God. How can we “know?” We study, we learn, we pray, we worship, we gain in experience – and our knowledge increases. Gratitude to God should be a fundamental part of our faith, a mantra for how we think and live. But gratitude should never be stagnant. At some point the mindset of gratitude has to move from the head to the heart, and the Apostle Paul addresses this transition in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

These verses move us quickly past the fundamental to faithfulness. It’s one thing to be generally thankful to God: to open our prayers with a word of thanks or to come to church and sing the Doxology. Now we’re faced with another set of imperatives or commands. These verses, written in Greek, are in the imperative just like Ps. 100, but where the imperative in Ps. 100 is “know,” the imperative in these short verses is “do.” What Paul is actually saying is: Do always rejoice. Do constantly pray. Do give thanks in all circumstances.” Another way might be to end every phrase with an exclamation point. If we’re honest with ourselves, this is harder. 

Life is hard. Life can be painful. Broken relationships and hurt feelings. Loneliness and isolation. Disappointments. The stress of paying bills and meeting everyday obligations. Health issues. Death. How do we rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances? Is Paul being unreasonable? 

On the surface, we would prefer to qualify Paul’s words by removing the “all” and replacing it with the word “some.” Kind of like that great hymn, I Surrender Some. Right? But let’s be real. How can I give thanks when myself or someone I love gets a cancer diagnosis? Or I lose a loved one due to dementia? Or a child or grandchild dies? How can I give thanks when I lose my job? How can I give thanks when my life seems to be spiraling out of control due to any number of circumstances … and I’m sure you all have your own thoughts? I think there’s a distinction to be made … and then a couple of points. First, note that Paul says we are to give thanks “in” all circumstances, not “for” all circumstances. That may seem a slight distinction but it’s an important one. Thanks for all circumstances implies we just accept our lot whatever it is and give thanks for it. Giving thanks in all circumstances means that we give thanks for all we know – have learned and experienced – God to be and then we pray and pray and pray (constantly pray, Paul says) for strength, for courage, for healing, and even for a change in our circumstances. 

Why is this moving from the fundamental to the faithful? Ps. 100 just says do it – gives thanks. 1 Thessalonians says we give thanks because it is the “will of God in Christ Jesus for [us].” It is a matter of our faith in Christ, a faith we are called to live, as integral to our lives as breathing. We can’t exist with breathing; we can’t live our faith without giving thanks to God. Faithful thanksgiving is not about the good or the bad – those things exist on the surface of faith. It’s in the depths of faith where we find the ability to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances because when we get to the depths we get to the promise, the fullness, of faith. 

You may have noticed on the front of your bulletin the slide that outlines the circle of faith: from fundamental to faithful to fullness. We now come to that last stage and to our sermon text for today from Ephesians 1:15-19 as Scott read for us. In v. 17, we can hear the tie-in back to Ps. 100: “So that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” Our desire to know more about God will lead to a spirit of wisdom and insight about God. But more than that, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may perceive what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Whatever our present circumstances, we can have hope. Hope is a present trust in a future promise. Hope reminds us that we are promised a glorious inheritance. Hope assures us that what is yet to come will be greater than anything we can possibly experience now. And our hope is not based on us – on our strength or wisdom – it is based in the certainty of God’s great power. 

In the end, gratitude, at least in one sense, has very little, if anything, to do with God. God doesn’t need our gratitude, but God knows we have a need to be grateful. If we are to fully live our faith, our focus needs to be on something, and someone, greater than ourselves. Gratitude is a fundamental ingredient of faith leading to a deep and meaningful life. Gratitude encompasses thankfulness and then moves beyond it. Gratitude means receiving the essence of God’s love and grace, and having been filled with thankfulness, letting God’s love and grace come out from you to bless others as you have been blessed. Where are you, where would you put your faith, on the circle of gratitude? The key is to never remain stagnant but to keep moving deeper until you attain that glorious inheritance that is promised to the saints, to all those who believe in God through Christ Jesus. Amen.  

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1 Comments on this post:

Tina McAninch

Pastor Denise - I promise I am not stalking you. I'm working on Metro's newsletter today to focus on gratitude, actually the difference between thankfulness and gratitude., and I found your post in one of my last searches. So I am seeking forgiveness instead of permission - I'll be sharing a link to this post in today's article and quoting you from the last paragraph. I hope that is ok!